Didn’t I do well?! Kerswell gives herself a pat on the back

CROYDON IN CRISIS: It is three years to the week since the emergency committee meeting, attended by Jason Perry, that decided in secret to give £437,000 to Jo Negrini to leave her job as council CEO.
Today, Negreedy’s replacement, Katherine Kerswell, appears to have put a 1,000-word job application out into the local authority marketplace. By our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE

Pompous, patronising, arrogant: Croydon CEO Katherine Kerswell has annoyed many long-time, loyal council staff

Katherine Kerswell, Croydon Council’s £192,474 per year chief executive, is on annual leave. She’s away until Monday, September 4. At least, that’s the out-of-office message that anyone who has emailed her in the last few days has received.

So Kerswell’s not been answering residents’ emails or attending to their concerns. But she has, in her official capacity, been writing 1,136-word articles for the trade press, telling all and sundry what a great job she’s been doing in her near-three years at cash-strapped Croydon.

This week marks three years since the hurried departure from Fisher’s Folly of Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, with her Gucci briefcase stuffed full of taxpayers’ cash, after she was persuaded to leave her job with a “golden handshake” of £437,000 just before the full horrors of the council’s financial collapse were fully exposed.

Kerswell was parachuted in as a replacement a few weeks later, at the behest of the Government and with the backing of her chums at the Local Government Association – whose members comprise most of the readership of the Local Government Chronicle, the website and magazine which has today published the self-congratulatory article about her time in Croydon by Kerswell.

Those staff still left in the employ of Croydon Council suggest that Kerswell strikes a remote figure, frequently unavailable due to absence (all entirely legitimately, of course), who has never deviated from a condescending and patronising, some have even said “arrogant”, approach to staff at meetings.

There’s been no noticeable improvement in the council’s dire financial position, with the third of Croydon’s Section 114 mea culpa notices being issued as recently as November 2022, despite repeated bail-outs from government and a multi-million-pound fire sale of properties and assets, some of which achieved much less than their true market value.

And although Kerswell has presided over around 500 front-line council jobs being “deleted” in the past three years, she’s now surrounded herself with more executive-level appointees than even Negrini had in her most imperial phase of her bit of empire-building.

Since March 2023, two and a half years into Kerswell’s time in office, the government-appointed improvement panel has been in effective control of Croydon Council, to “direct” all major decisions, rather than “guide”, according to the Secretary of State, Michael Gove. Although Kerswell would prefer if that went unmentioned…

Gissa job: how the self-acclaimed ‘transformational’ Katherine Kerswell’s article appears on the Local Government Chronicle website today

Croydon Council under Kerswell is now subject to formal improvement actions not only from the Department for Levelling Up, but also the Housing Ombudsman, while its conduct is also being carefully watched by the Office of the Information Commissioner, because of Croydon’s appalling record in answering Freedom of Information requests.

But according to the standfirst, the introductory paragraph on the LGC’s website, Croydon “has been building a culture of openness, honesty and transparency at every level”.

Openness, honesty and transparency at every level: the council CEO suppressed the Penn Report for two years

This, remember, is the same Katherine Kerswell who for two years suppressed the Penn Report into wrong-doing at the council, doing nothing to implement its many detailed recommendations for disciplinary action until it was, mostly, far too late to achieve anything.

This is the same Katherine Kerswell who refused to release the salary details of the council’s senior executives – including her own – to researchers working for the right-wing lobby group The Tax Payers Alliance, for their annual Town Hall Rich List. It is the first time in more than a decade that Croydon’s senior salary figures have been withheld.

And this is the same Katherine Kerswell who more recently kept a highly critical report of her own bungling at the 2022 local elections on her desk for four months, suppressing any possible Town Hall debate by councillors until October at the earliest.

Yeah… “openness, honesty and transparency at every level”.

The article is in part a promotional piece for a LGC conference to be held in Manchester next month, at which Kerswell will be a speaker, where she will undoubtedly be telling anyone who will listen what a bang-up job she’s been doing.

Omnishambles: Kerswell’s bungled handling of the 2022  local election count should be investigated by the Electoral Commission, according to a range of witnesses

It is also a blatant job application, a “puff piece”, as Kerswell continues to grumble to friends and colleagues at the Local Government Association about why she thinks she deserves a pay rise while putting hundreds of erstwhile colleagues out of work altogether.

According to Kerswell, Croydon “has needed to change at a scale and speed that has been unprecedented in its history”.

Kerswell writes, “Our collective focus on improvement, and our core commitment to transforming the culture of the organisation – with everyone involved – has enabled us to weather the worst so far.” Yeah, that’s the council which under Kerswell has issued three Section 114 notices, each one a separate admission of financial failure.

Kerswell claims that, “Real change has been delivered and at pace in Croydon”, less than six months after her bosses at the DLUHC announced that they had decided to give greater statutory powers to their improvement panel because, obviously, everything was not progressing so smoothly.

Kerswell seeks to dissemble: “Croydon’s position remains unique. Despite our challenges, the government has not appointed commissioners at Croydon, nor has it removed any decision-making powers from the council.” Which is not untrue. But it is also a long way from “openness, honesty and transparency at every level”.

Different version: the Local Government Chronicle’s reporting of the DLUHC’s actions gives a more objective perspective than Kerswell’s rose-tinted version

Only last month, the same magazine reported unambiguously: “The levelling up secretary confirmed an intervention package for Croydon LBC in parliament this morning.

“In a written ministerial statement Michael Gove said Croydon’s improvement and assurance panel would be placed on a statutory footing… Today Mr Gove said that despite progress that has been made ‘laying the foundations for the recovery’ the government needed to act because ‘historic issues continue to be unearthed’ which are a problem because of the council’s ‘precarious financial position’.”

According to Kerswell, “The aim is that our panel will remain with us for two years, after which they will depart, with confidence that Croydon is a sustainable, well-run local authority, able to meet its duty of best value and able to meet any issues that arise as we continue our organisational journey at rapid pace.” Fingers crossed, everyone!

“Our ambition is to become an efficient council – to deliver essential services well, offer value for money, to listen to the people of Croydon, and simply do what we say we will do,” Kerswell writes.

15% Council Tax hike: Kerswell seems to almost boast of imposing the biggest local tax rise in history

Her method to achieve that? “We must do less, better”.

Kerswell’s article continues to hint that some kind of debt write-off deal is being negotiated – although she and her finance director, Jane West, have been saying that such unprecedented action is “essential” for almost a year now, with no resolution.

It might be significant, but according to Kerswell, that “unaffordable and unsustainable” debt appears to have shrunk by £300million in the past few months. Kerswell refers to a “£1.3billion debt”.

Kerswell seems to boast of “our contribution to that new solution”, the 15per cent Council Tax hike in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis (Kerswell pays her Council Tax in Lewisham… So much for “our contribution”).

And then there’s the savage cuts to council services in Croydon. “We have also delivered £90million of savings over the past two years, with a further £30million coming in this financial year.”

And wait for it… “There is more in years to come as well.”

Powerless: following their S114 notice last November, Kerswell and Tory Mayor Jason Perry have seen the government give additional statutory powers to its improvement panel

“The true challenge is one of moving from fear – fear of those red RAG ratings and fear of calling poor practice out – to confidence and curiosity, where we are unafraid to own up to mistakes, and see them as opportunities for growth,” writes the council CEO who is soon to face an Employment Tribunal case, brought by one of her former senior executives, which accuses her and the council of racism.

“At every level, we need to seek out external challenge and criticism and be willing to have uncomfortable conversations,” writes the council chief executive who fails to respond to questions from Inside Croydon and who has never made herself available for interview by this website’s journalists.

The council CEO who was not answering residents’ emails last week while, presumably, penning this article, tells the LGC that she is somehow “putting residents first in all we do”.

In at least one respect, Kerswell remains a master of the form: writing corporate bullshit: “For Croydon, change continues but it’s through our commitment to improving that we will create a space where people feel part of changing for the better and in owning that change – and founding it in our shared commitment to why we’re here (caring for all of Croydon’s diverse people and places).” Note the use of parentheses, almost as if the people of Croydon were added as an afterthought.

Which, as Katherine Kerswell continues her relentless drive to do what’s best for Katherine Kerswell, may well have been the case.

Read more: Newman and Negrini’s pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons
Read more:
#PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: Information Commissioner says council is ‘failing residents’
Read more: Kerswell’s council keeps payments to top earners secret

  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com
  • As featured on Google News Showcase
  • Our comments section on every report provides all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content
  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Council Tax, Croydon Council, Hazel Simmonds, Improvement Board, Jane West, Jo Negrini, Katherine Kerswell, Mayor Jason Perry, Section 114 notice, Tony McArdle and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Didn’t I do well?! Kerswell gives herself a pat on the back

  1. Laurence Fisher says:

    Will someone at Fishers Folly please go up to this woman and rip off the realistic face mask to reveal Negreni so it can finally be proved. Croydon have simply flushed one shit away to replace it with another.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    This is my comment to that article on the LGC.

    Katherine Kerswell is correct there has been corporate blindness. The issues are and were blindingly obvious to many, yet little was done, and then much too late. Sadly despite some required actions and steering, after such a chaotic decade of profligacy and ignorance of risk, the cure has pretty much killed the body, It has sustained perhaps irrecoverable reputational damage in doing so.
    There are many instance where the Nolan Principles were not seen to have been followed.
    Public confidence in the executive that failed them, has led residents to have little credibility left – in that regards.
    So fairly or unfairly for her, I would suggest regaining that [trust} may be a hurdle too hard to overcome for Ms Kerswell, especially if the present manner {methods} of dealing with outstanding and longstanding issues are continued.

    Taking more time to engage with the issues in public forums may be a method of regaining that credibility. It may be time for Ms Kerswell to set the example and own up to her own mistakes to enable the Borough to move forward under her leadership.

    Or recognise it is time to pass the baton to one that is better placed to do this and move forward, as most of the change agent work has been completed but perhaps not embedded.

    That is my opinion based on my experiences with the council and what I have witnessed with despair and a large amount of disgust, especially at the antic’s I and many were in receipt of. That includes how we were treated when we raised prima facie issues direct and in writing to the Council on her watch.

    Ensuring that during change, basic operational delivery and safe practices were not adversely impacted along with detriment being minimised has not been the experiences Croydon has had under Ms Kerswell. Perhaps that was not endemic across the Borough? But the litany of issues is staggering for a public body and that was after Ms Kerswell took over.

    There is a clear disjoint in how Ms Kerswell see’s herself, and how others see her. I would suggest a few serious 360 degree feedback sessions should be planned for her so that particular wrinkle can be ironed out.

  3. adrian waters says:

    Reading all this is so depressing.

  4. derek thrower says:

    Perhaps she is off taking industrial action in pursuit of her pay claim. Can anyone tell the difference when she is not there?

    • The gratuitous self-promotion, over all else, when so little has actually been achieved, was trademark of Negrini.
      It’s deflection and distraction.
      Kerswell ought to have had the article cleared by Mayor Perry before publication, and sought permission before appearing at the LGC conference.
      This just shows Piss-poor is not in control. But then, we knew that…

      • Ian Kierans says:

        Self promotion with generalistic euphemisms and bingo words are a trademark of many helicopter managers who are rarely leaders.
        I was of the understanding that the conference was for those in that field,and like many of these things are professional get togethers to share ”Best” Practice and Network? Probably more the Networking in some cases.
        Perhaps in the swirling whirlpool of Croydon musical chairs of I’m in charge – no I am – no he is – no she is – maybe she got a got from Tony instead?

        But hey things change so you are perhaps more up to date on that Ed.

  5. Spare a thought for the people who got us into this mess. Tony Newman and Simon Hall (and their cronies) and Mike Fisher (and his yes-men, including the current “executive” Mayor).

    Then there’s the Tories in government, with their austerity policy and deliberate underfunding of local government generally and unfair finance distribution that penalises our borough.

    We’re being subject to collective punishment for the sins and omissions of politicians who either didn’t know what they were doing or know perfectly well but just don’t care

  6. Sarah Bird says:

    Given the independent reports into the councils’ endless failings , Section 114 Notices , I am at a loss to understand her PR or her position. If and when the ICO enforces the outstanding FOI’s in court ,of which , one is mine, then no doubt she can appraise the court of her actions .

  7. Lancaster says:

    At this level of failing upwards, cognitive bias kicks in then groupthink takes over. Clearly evident in Croydon for the last two decades and today; as well as by those who subscribe to the LGC.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      With you until the LGC – I do find it a mine of information and updates and quite useful – you have to take some of it with the proverbial salt but in general its a good reporting vehicle as is IC in a much more locally relevant way.

  8. chris myers says:

    There was a time, in my lifetime, when a few politicians showed humility … from time to time. Now we have the worst of all worlds – inept leaders in politics and public servants with no sense of shame whatsoever. Bring back the stocks…

  9. Charlotte says:

    Wasn’t Kerswell herself was given a ‘Negrini’ payout of £420,000 after16 months at Kent County Council? Our money handed over to incentivise failure. She relies on out-of-date management speak because she has nothing else to offer and the same self-congratulatory tone that Negrini used. Absolute waste of space.

  10. Wayne says:

    “openness, honesty and transparency at every level“? We know that’s not true. Under her watch, Heather Cheesborough, Nicola Townsend and Ross Gentry have, amongst other things, made statements that were untrue, withheld documents unlawfully, and published planning reports that don’t mention the long list of policies that developments fail.

    The whole system has turned inwards focusing on covering up and protecting the top of the organisation. Residents suffer along with those employees lower down (and no doubt some good ones) who lost their jobs.

  11. Daph says:

    lazy cow

  12. Sally says:

    There’s more than a touch of David Brent about Katherine Kerswell. Her ability to blend astonishing levels of incompetence, lack of self-awareness and narcissism is matched only by Heather Cheesborough. Owning up to mistakes? Go on Katherine. We’re waiting.

  13. Laurence Fisher says:

    The thesis of how one is judged, in the public eye, of how someone conducts themselves within a role, with some negativity at the forefront, is usually divided by the good that individual does. A simple mathematical analysis can determine if someone is a complete fraud, incompetent, not bothered, ok, good, or brilliant.
    Nope, I can’t find that good part either, despite a great amount of digging.

Leave a Reply